Cycling center hopes to turn Beduin boys into winners

A youth cycling center in Abu Krinat, a Beduin settlement in the Abu Basma Regional Council south of Beersheba, was recently opened by the Israel Cycling Federation as part of the Bikes for All project. Although the center doesn't officially open until June 27, it is already training instructors and organizing programing. Fifteen youngsters have received bicycles and attend weekly meetings on how to build, ride and safely maintain them. The Abu Krinat cycling center is one of 10 established by the federation, and the first to be established in a Beduin community. To avoid violating Beduin mores, the Abu Krinat cycling center, unlike those in other locations, currently accepts only boys. "The cycling center is not an attempt to change their life style, but to enhance it," cycling instructor Yossi Levin told The Jerusalem Post Sunday." The participants, who were chosen by the heads of Abu Krinat's elementary and high school, are "kids who fall between the cracks, behaviorally and academically," Levin said. Usually, these students come from "problematic families" that may have many children, low income or domestic abuse, he said. "The purpose of the bicycle," Levin said, "is to empower young Beduin and to teach them about the desert environment that surrounds them." Fifteen new bicycles were donated by the Neviot mineral water company. Starting next year, participants will only be allowed to use the center's bicycles on a temporary basis and will have to earn them through work, as is done in the other cycling centers. Participants earn parts of the bicycle and build it themselves. This procedure "allows the bicycle owners to achieve a real sense of 'I accomplished; I earned it,'" said Levin, who was previously a cycling instructor for Boston's Bikes Not Bombs organization. Levin and Amir el-Hawashla, the first trained Beduin bicycle instructor in Israel, run Abu Krinat's center. Members of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev cycling team have voluntarily undergone seven months of training to become instructors. In each session, they teach the young cyclists various techniques for riding in challenging, unpaved terrains, such as the proper usage of gears and how to repair damaged chains and wheels. The Abu Basma Regional Council hopes the cycling center will keep Abu Krinat's youth in school. Additionally, the participants can learn about and improve their health, nutrition and fitness by riding. There are also long-term plans to initiate family programing at the cycling center to improve family relations. The training sessions are also meant to advance a greater agenda of building self-worth, responsibility and community among the boys. The cycling center exposes its members to a social network of other participants with common interests through cycling competitions. According to Tal Horesh-Blitt, the head of Abu Basma's social work staff, "The cycling center is a first step in a larger project; learning to ride in an especially challenging environment - when you win the road, you win yourself."